The key to helping people with mental illness may not be found only in a psychiatrist’s office.

Instead, it may be found in the hands of community members who are working to learn and help people understand what causes mental illness.

For the past year, Be Well Victoria has worked to begin a grassroots program that focuses on highlighting people from historically underrepresented groups, who frequently have less access to quality mental health care. Together, that coalition will focus on big-picture changes they can make to improve the well-being of all residents.

Be Well Victoria, which has a three-year grant from the Hogg Foundation, is part of the Victoria County Public Health Department. In it first year, it laid the groundwork to continue to grow and help the community.

By working with a coalition of residents, nonprofits and service providers, it is learning what the community needs and how to reach people who have varying levels of recovery from mental illness. They are working to recognize the needs and solutions that are available in the community.

For example, when a resident asked why there was no longer a support group for people recovering from mental illness, one of the group’s organizers decided to use her own time to take training with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and now runs a peer support group in Victoria for people in recovery.

In the coming year, Be Well Victoria wants to get more involved in the community and begin identifying what areas the group wants to focus on and where they’d like to make concrete changes.

Discovering and implementing changes and improvements in lives of the mentally ill will not happened overnight, just like the crisis of mental illness did not occur overnight.

It will take time and money for research and problem-solving.

This type of grassroots thinking is needed now more than ever when dealing with issues that affect the entire community.

Grassroots efforts such as Be Well Victoria are needed in communities beyond Victoria because there are not enough psychiatrists and professional counselors available to help people who are recovering from mental illness.

Victoria has three psychiatrists practicing in the city. Multiple professional counselors also work in private practice as well as for Gulf Bend, but the counselors are limited in the level of care they can provide. The lack of adequate professional help often means long waiting lists for appointments while the illness goes untreated.

With continued support of grant providers, such as the Hogg Foundation, grassroots efforts can gain the needed financial support to develop their programs.

With Be Well Victoria, the Hogg Foundation is working to help them see the bigger picture of causes of mental illness in the community.

In the coming years, as Be Well Victoria is successful in helping people recover from mental illness, we believe the Hogg Foundation will take notice and make more funding available so the program can continue to help Victoria residents.

The coalition is off to a good start, but the work will not be completed in the three-year life of the grant.

We hope the foundation sees the good work the coalition is doing in the last two years of the grant and agrees to renew funding so more work can be done.

The coalition will also need continued support from the community and service providers to continue the work it has started.

The community as a whole can help support Be Well Victoria by volunteering to help the group with projects, attending meetings and offering insight and financial support.

In the process, the person you help may be your neighbor, a loved one or yourself.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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